On Friday night, the Meridian Centre (@MeridianCtre) was filled with anticipation. The fans couldn’t wait for the action to get underway for the first home playoff game in franchise history, while the players eagerly awaited tip-off, hoping to prove themselves to all of the naysayers. The River Lions (@RiverLions) were facing an uphill battle heading into Friday’s match-up, having lost the first two games in the best of series, making Game Three a must win for the team.
Before the game could get underway, Niagara’s three owners, Richard Petko (@vzriverlion), Michael Skrtich (@SkrtichLiving), and Jeff Sotiriou (@JeffreySotiriou) met at centre court with Regional Chair Alan Caslin (@ChairCaslin) to present River Lions Co-Captain Logan Stutz with the NBL Canada’s MVP award (Stutz was named league MVP earlier on Friday). Stutz spoke highly of his experience with the River Lions, his first in the NBL Canada, and was quick to thank the crowd for all of their support during the team’s inaugural season. Following Logan’s speech, the River Lions unveiled a new banner at the Meridian Centre, one to commemorate the franchise’s inaugural season. The River Lions will now forever be a piece of the facility’s history!
Then it was time for the game to get underway. The River Lions got off to a strong start thanks to baskets from Sammy Zeglinski (@SammyZeglinski) and BJ Monteiro (@bmont23) who both looked to continue their strong play from Game Two. The Windsor Express (@WindsorExpress) however, would not be silenced. Buoyed by strong play from Brandon Robinson, the Express were able to walk away from the first quarter with a dominant 10 point lead over the hometown River Lions.
The second quarter was not much better for the River Lions as they were only able to score 12 points in the quarter while they gave up 21 to the Express. The Express were shutting down the River Lions at every turn, and when the River Lions were able to take an open shot, they were unable to capitalize. Through the first two quarters, the River Lions shot a measly .167 from beyond the arc. Most impressively for the Express, was that they were able to limit MVP Logan Stutz to only 1 point in the first 24 minutes.
In Game One, the River Lions were playing well until big man Sam Muldrow was forced to sit early in the third quarter because of foul trouble. Once again on Friday night, Muldrow found himself in foul trouble early in the third quarter, collecting his fourth personal foul not even two minutes into the frame. This time, however, the River Lions used this as the match to light their fire. The team found themselves picking up ground quickly, going on a 14-3 run early in the quarter and decreasing Windsor’s lead to just six.
However, that was as close as the River Lions would come on Friday night. The fourth quarter saw the Express play strong shutdown defense and slowly saw the River Lions lose their enthusiasm and allow Windsor to score some easy buckets. When the dust settled and all was said and done, the River Lions fell to the Windsor Express 95-83, allowing the Express to sweep the best of five series 3-0.
The River Lions finished their inaugural season with a 16-24 record (10-10 at home). Coach Grace Lokole, who took over the head coaching position midway through the season put together a strong campaign and we wouldn’t be surprised (at all) if he’s back behind the bench next season! The River Lions have become an important part of the Niagara sports scene and will continue to bring top-notch basketball to the Region for years to come!